The Oklahoma City Thunder make their long-awaited regular-season debut tonight in Charlotte against the Hornets.
The game tips off at 6 p.m. CT on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
Here are five notes for tonight’s contest:
How will the team look like? This one might be a bit obvious, but with the original season opener against the Rockets postponed this past Wednesday, tonight will mark the first night that the new-look Thunder will play a regular-season game.
Despite a four-month layoff from their last game, the team has had high turnover. The head coach is gone, six of last year’s 10 minutes-per-game leaders are gone. It is a different team from the one we saw in The Bubble.
It will be fun to see how Shai Gilgeous-Alexander does in his first game as the number one option, especially against a respectable opponent like Terry Rozier, who dropped 42 points in his season opener. Scary Terry is a good first challenge for the young buck.
Nearly a year ago, SGA dropped 27 points on an efficient 10/17 shooting at the Spectrum Center. Let’s hope for an encore tonight for SGA against the team that drafted him.
Thunder missing guards
Oklahoma City will be without Theo Maledon and Ty Jerome in tonight’s game. Maledon is away from the team for personal reasons, with some reports claiming he is working out his work permit to play in the United States; Jerome is out due to a sprained ankle. Those two comprise the Thunder’s best two bench guards, assuming that the starting backcourt will be SGA and George Hill.
This will be one of Mark Daigneault’s first challenges. Who will handle the offensive initiator role when SGA and Hill are both off the court? My bet will be that we will get some Hamidou Diallo minutes at the one. The team seems to be really high on Diallo’s potential as a lead guard and tonight will be a good first test to experiment with LaMelo Ball on the other side of the court.
Rookie’s first game
Today’s game will mark the first NBA game for Aleksej Pokusevski. Pokusevski had a wild preseason that saw few great moments smeared with a lot of bad moments. I expect the Thunder to integrate Pokusevski as a rotation player early on.
It will be interesting to see how Mark Daigneault handles the 19-year-old’s workload. Will it be trial by fire or will he have his handheld the entire way? I guess it will depend on how Pokusevski responds, but with this season essentially being house money, it garners the team to experiment a bit with the 17th overall pick.
Defending the perimeter
In their season opener against the Cavaliers, Charlotte jacked up 44 threes, the third most of any team thus far in the infant stages of this season. It is way too early to determine whether or not the high volume of threes is something that James Borrego is trying to encrypt into his team or if it’s just a result of the Cavaliers playing bad perimeter defense. But regardless, the Hornets’ roster is full of good outside shooters such as Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington, and Miles Bridges. The Thunder will need to be disciplined on the perimeter tonight.
How will the Hornets overcome Cody Zeller’s loss?
The Hornets lost their starting center for four-to-six weeks after breaking his hand in the season opener. Zeller has been a mainstay in Charlotte for eight seasons now. Bismack Biyombo will likely take his spot in the starting five. Zeller is Charlotte’s only big who can handle big minutes, having to rely on Biyombo, who is better in short spurts, or PJ Washington is a lot to ask for.
All of Charlotte’s offseason moves indicate that they want to compete now and if that is the case, then Michael Jordan and Mitch Kupchak should seriously consider trading for somebody like Al Horford, who will raise the team’s ceiling.
The Hornets can afford to take on his hefty contract as they are 28th in the league in team payroll at $105.2 million.